Friday, July 23, 2004

What Should Kerry Do About Iraq

Salon asks a number of people including John Judis, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Charles W. Maynes, former editor of Foreign Policy, and Michael Lind, whose answer is below:

Neither John Kerry nor any other member of the U.S. Congress voted for the war in Iraq. They voted for the threat of war as a tool of coercive diplomacy. The Iraq Resolution was a conditional declaration of war, like Eisenhower's Formosa Resolution of 1956 and Johnson's Southeast Asia Resolution of 1964. Conditional declarations of war allow the president to threaten war in an effort to achieve diplomatic results.

Congress authorized President Bush to use the threat of war in order to coerce Saddam Hussein into allowing intrusive arms inspections to determine whether his regime possessed weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The policy worked. The buildup of U.S. armed forces pressured Saddam into allowing arms inspectors. They discovered that, indeed, he probably had no weapons of mass destruction. Since it was likely if not certain that Saddam posed no real threat, the existing sanctions regime should have been continued, with the addition of intrusive arms inspections. Most of the U.S. troops who had taken part in the buildup as part of America's successful coercive diplomacy should have been transferred to Afghanistan, where they were needed to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban and to pacify the country.

The members of Congress who voted to give the president the threat of waging war to pressure Saddam into allowing intrusive arms inspections were vindicated, when coercive diplomacy in Iraq succeeded. By proceeding to wage war, President Bush disobeyed the express terms of the congressional resolution, which authorized him to use "necessary and appropriate" force only in two circumstances: to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq." Because the inspectors had determined that there was no threat to the U.S. from Iraq, and because Saddam had broadly complied with all "relevant" (arms-related) Security Council resolutions, neither of the two express conditions for either the threat or the actual use of force had been met.

George W. Bush waged the war in defiance of the terms of the resolution which he claims authorized it. Bush asked Congress for the authority to threaten force to pressure Saddam Hussein into admitting international arms inspectors. Then, after the success of that policy made war unnecessary, he proceeded to wage a war of regime change which Congress had not authorized. Bush, not Kerry, is the flip-flopper.

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